Amazingly, EARSC has just celebrated its 25 years anniversary. The founding meeting for the Association took place on 1st June 1989 with the presence of a number of board members who still active in the Association today. I can mention particularly Marcello Marenesi and Emile Maes but there are others who we still see and meet.
Bruce Smith was the first chairman, Bill Jackson (who I worked for at the time) was the first treasurer and Rupert Hayden was the first vice-chair. As a summer job, maybe I’ll write a short piece on EARSC on Wikipedia and anyone who wishes to contribute will be welcome.
But back to the celebration! We had a great party on the 25th June – the evening of our 2014 annual general meeting – at which some 80 guests had an excellent opportunity to mingle and exchange between member companies and Brussels-based policy makers. We also made two awards – a first for EARSC! We felt the occasion was too important to miss the opportunity to introduce a “company of the year” award. This is for the company recognised by both peers and international experts as having made the most significant contribution to the growth of the EO services sector in Europe. I am pleased to report that GeoVille GmbH was selected as the winner by both EARSC members and the international jury and Christian Hoffman (founder and CEO) proudly accepted the award.
A second award was made to Emile Maes (founder and CEO of Eurosense) for his lifetime contribution to the sector. Not only has Emile built one of the first and most successful companies in the EO sector in Europe but he has been a strong supporter of EARSC since that very first meeting 25 years ago.
EARSC has come a long way in that time – as has the world of remote sensing. In 1989 the world was changing dramatically; Time magazine even consider it as the year which changed the world – Tiananmen Square, fall of the Berlin wall, first elections in Poland and death of Ayatollah Khomeni to name just a few major events. The internet was still a research network, mobile phones were brick-sized and Europe had launched only 2 EO satellites (Spot 1&2). It was also a time when commercialisation of remote sensing was a priority even if this was to bring a crisis to the industry some years later. EARSC also went through its own crisis in the mid-90’s but recovered and now has 76 members from 23 countries. Interest is sustained and 2 decisions taken at the recent AGM should help bring more companies and other organisations into the network
Our focus on animating the network and helping companies find business together seems to be much appreciated and we now provide a single voice for the European EO services sector ranging from those selling satellite data, to those selling geospatial information where satellite data may represent a small proportion of its value. The increasing commercial interests of the sector are also being recognised by European institutions, EC and ESA, and we are being kept very busy in dealing with both the positive and negative aspects of this. As is typical of the sector, the government interest in EO surveillance means that we face increasing legislative actions and EARSC will be at the front of efforts to ensure that these are constructive for the industry.
Indeed, 2014 feels like a significant year for our sector. Whereas in 2013 some 23 EO satellites were launched globally, this number looks to explode in 2014. The strong, revised, commercial interest manifesting itself in private investments and new ventures (Skybox, Planetlabs, Orthimage, Urthercast, Satellogic etc) is to be welcomed. It demonstrates a confidence in the technology but more importantly in an emerging market for the services which EO can deliver. As I have mentioned before, I regret that most of these are outside of Europe but feel that the skills and competences amongst our members will be able to compete with the support of a favourable legislative environment.
We are working with both ESA and the European Commission to establish a constructive approach and I am optimistic that the next few months will see positive developments. A sign of this can be seen in our institutional interview this month with Eric Morel, Director in charge of Industrial Policy at ESA, who sets out a vision for achieving sustainable, commercial business in the downstream sector.
Another priority for us is working to ensure the Copernicus programme is oriented to allow industry to deliver key services to new customers. Standard procurement procedures used by the EC are not well-suited to complex services such as those required by Copernicus, and their use risks to particularly disfavour industry. We hope that this can be recognised and some of the lessons learned from the Galileo programme can be applied to Copernicus.
Finally, I just wish to mention that we are making good progress on our certification scheme with Planetek recently becoming the first company to successfully apply it to their certification process. We shall hold a second certification workshop in November (on 19th, in London) to look at the results and decide on the next steps.
1989 was a year that changed the world. The world of Earth Observation has changed enormously since then; what will the next 25 years bring?
by Geoff Sawyer